“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

(For info on the 2020 General Election, visit Student News Daily’s General Election page.)


(UPDATED 9/14/20)

PARTY CONVENTIONS (and Brokered Conventions):

After the primary elections, party delegates officially choose the nominees at the national conventions, which were held from July to August 2020.

The Democratic National Convention was broadcast virtually via Zoom from July 13–16, 2020. View all videos at the DNC youtube page or c-span.
The Republican National Convention was held August 24-27, 2020 in Charlotte, NC and in various locations, live and pre-recorded. Due to COVID-19, each state was allowed 6 delegates in Charlotte. View videos of all speakers at the RNC youtube page or c-span.
The Libertarian Party Convention was held on July 9-12, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. View all videos at the official Libertarian Party youtube page.
The Green Party Convention was held virtually, due to the coronavirus pandemic on July 11. View all videos at the Green Party youtube page or c-span.

View the pdf worksheet

Questions (Party Conventions):

Watch videos from some of the RNC and DNC convention speakers, then answer the following questions:

List 3 speakers from each convention and answer the following questions for each speaker:

  1. Tone is the attitude a speaker takes towards a subject. How would you describe the overall tone of each speech? (Which word/words best describe the speaker’s tone: serious, earnest, inspiring, optimistic, critical, unreasonable, angry, pessimistic, etc.) Explain your answer.
  2. For what reason(s) does the speaker support the candidate?
  3. What was your overall impression of each speech?



A National Platform is the official statement of a political party’s position on a wide variety of issues. Each issue included in the platform is a “plank.”

Party platforms and their planks are very important to the electoral process: They give the candidates a clear political position with which they can campaign. They give voters a sense of what the candidates believe in, the issues they think are important, and how – if elected – they will address them.

Both of the nation’s major political parties create platforms in advance of national elections so that voters have a clear view of the agenda the party will pursue if its members are elected to office. (A new Platform is adopted every four years by both the Democratic and Republican parties and is generally approved during the party’s national convention.)

View all current and previous party platforms at The American Presidency Project.

Questions (Party Platforms):

1. A preamble is an introductory and expressionary statement in a document that explains the document’s purpose and underlying philosophy. Read the Preamble to each party’s 2020 Platform. (Democratic Preamble, Republican Preamble) Based on the Preamble:

  1. How would you describe the main focus of each party?
  2. How would you describe the overall tone of each party?

Worksheet: “Party Platform Comparison.”  How specific or detailed is each party on its positions regarding the issues? Complete the worksheet. Then answer a, b and c below.  View the pdf worksheet.

  1. For each issue, explain if you believe the party was specific or vague in stating its position. Why do you think this is so?
  2. What role does each party believe the government should take? (What type of government action and/or legislation, if any, does each party support?)
  3. For these issues, which party’s position lines up with your own? Ask a parent the same question.

3.  Based on each Platform, what issues do you think are most important to each party? (Economic, Social, Foreign policy, National Security…) Explain your answer.


To really understand the candidates’ proposals/plans for how they will address the issues important to America today, you need to listen to what they say, as well as the policies they have implemented, not what the news media and political analysts say about them.  Take some time to watch at least one speech by each candidate on a specific issue such as the economy, violence in the cities, protests….

ABOUT THIRD PARTIES:  The U.S. has a two-party system, which distinguishes American government from most other democracies. Most Western democracies, particularly those in Europe, have multiparty elections and parliaments, but the American government traditionally has had a two-party system. Since the Civil War the two parties have been the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

From time to time, third parties have gained traction with the electorate, most recently the Reform Party, led by Ross Perot, who won 19% of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election.  Third parties can sometimes push the major parties to consider their position on a specific issue (generally when they believe the party is not taking a strong enough stand, or is taking a moderate position on the issue).  Few third-party candidates hold elected office at the state or national level.  There are dozens of “third parties” in the U.S. including the Constitution Party (conservative), the Green Party (liberal) and the Libertarian Party (in general socially liberal, fiscally conservative). Read more at wikipedia.

NOTE #1: For the 2020 election, the Libertarian Party has secured ballot access in just 35 states; the Green Party has qualified for the November ballot in only 22 states. (See ballotpedia for info.)

NOTE #2:

  • The Democratic Party wants the Green Party candidate removed from the ballot in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
  • On September 10, the Democratic Party filed an intent to appeal a lower court decision ordering election officials to put the Green Party’s candidate for president on the ballot.  —  The party filed an intent to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court, where the Democratic majority-panel will make a decision decide the last before ballots can be mailed out to voters who applied for one.
  • In 2016, Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by 44,292 votes in Pennsylvania. The Green Party’s nominee that year, Jill Stein, won 49,941 in Pennsylvania.


Some people vote for a candidate based on the person’s age, sex, race or religion.  Some vote for a candidate because he/she is an interesting or dynamic speaker, is attractive, or looks like a leader.

Before you are eligible to vote, decide that you will vote for a candidate based on his/her positions on the issues, and who you think will enact policies that are best for the country, not just you personally. (e.g. many college students say they will vote for the candidate who ensures they will not have huge student loan debt – would that be enough of a reason to elect a person president? Ask a parent.)

View the “Presidential Candidates on the Issues” PDF worksheet and answer the following questions:


Questions – Candidates on the Issues:

  1. Three issues important to voters include:  Law and Order/Defund the Police;  Economy & Jobs;  Coronavirus/Reopening.  Visit the campaign website for each candidate and find the positions/issues page.  Complete the chart on the candidates and the issues: (view the PDF worksheet below)
  2. What actions have each taken on each issue? (Trump as president and Biden as a U.S. Senator for 36 years (1973-2009) and as Vice President under Obama (2009-2017)
  3. Consider the candidates’ positions from the charts. Which candidate most lines up with your views?


The central focus of a debate should be to provide voters with information they need to measure the suitability of the candidates for office. The Commission on Presidential Debates was established in 1987 by the Democratic and Republican Parties and has sponsored all presidential and vice presidential general election debates since 1988.

Why aren’t third party candidates participating in the debates? — The Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates are not invited to participate in the 2020 presidential debates because they did not meet the requirements necessary to qualify:  In 2000, the Commission on Presidential Debates (established in 1987 under the joint sponsorship of the Democratic and Republican parties) established a rule that for a candidate to be included in the national debates he or she must garner at least 15% support across five national polls. This rule has been controversial as it has effectively excluded U.S. parties other than the two major parties.

Interesting to note about the 2020 debates:

  • Unlike in years past, there is only one moderator in each debate, as the Commission on Presidential Debates, which says it is non-partisan, thinks that the Covid-19 pandemic necessitates having as few people onstage as possible.
  • The Trump campaign suggested moderators that included a number of Fox News hosts and conservative commentators. In response, the Commission said it would take “great care, as always, to ensure that the selected moderators are qualified and fair.” None of the campaign’s suggestions were invited to moderate.
  • Trump’s campaign also unsuccessfully lobbied for an additional debate, arguing there needed to be one earlier in September because the expansion of voting by mail means ballots could be decided earlier.  The Commission rejected that idea, noting the “difference between ballots having been issued by a state and those ballots having been cast by voters, who are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates.”
  • It is not known what the audience will look like for these debates, whether there will even be one, or even whether the candidates will appear virtually or together onstage.  The Trump campaign requested that both candidates appear onstage together. The Commission did not respond to that request, saying only that it will follow all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and that it has retained Cleveland Clinic as a health security adviser for the debates.

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) will sponsor the debates this fall.

Presidential debate schedule:

  • September 29, 2020, Cleveland Ohio, Case Western Reserve University.
    Moderator: Chris Wallace, Fox News. (Wallace is a registered Democrat and is regarded to  have a strong dislike of Donald Trump.)  The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. It will be divided into six 15-minute segments that the moderator gets to choose and is expected to announce at least a week before the debate.
    Click here for questions on “First Presidential Debate
  • October 15, 2020, Miami Florida, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
    Moderator: Steve Scully, C-SPAN.  The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. This debate will be a town hall format, where people who live in the Miami area can pose questions.
  • October 22, 2020, Nashville, TN, Belmont University.
    Moderator: Kristen Welker, NBC. The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. It will be divided into six 15-minute segments that the moderator gets to choose and is expected to announce at least a week before the debate.

Vice presidential debate:

  • October 7, 2020, University of Utah. Moderator: Susan Page, USA Today. The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. It will be divided into nine segments of 10 minutes each.

Watch each debate. Pay attention to the questions the moderator asks. View the “Presidential Debate” PDF worksheet for the questions below.


Questions (Presidential Debates):

1. List three questions asked by the moderator.

2. Which question do you think was the most important? Explain your choice.

3. For which question(s) did one or both candidates not give a direct answer, or not clearly answer the question?

4. A debate moderator’s role is to act as a neutral participant in a debate, to hold participants to time limits and to try to keep them from straying off the topic of the questions being raised in the debate. Do you think the moderator in this debate fulfilled this role? Explain your answer.

5. Do you think the questions chosen by the moderator helped viewers understand the candidates’ positions on foreign and domestic issues? Explain your answer.

6. Do you think the moderator’s questions were fair to each candidate? Explain your answer.



Electoral Votes:  Each state has a certain number of electoral votes.  The more people who live in your state, the more electoral votes your state gets.  In 48 of the states, the candidate who gets the most votes gets all the electoral votes for that state. Nebraska and Maine do not follow the winner-take-all rule – there could be a split of electoral votes among candidates through a proportional allocation of votes.  The first candidate to win 270 electoral votes becomes the President.

  • The Electoral College was established by the U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section 1, Clause 2). It specifies how many electors each state is entitled to have and that each state’s legislature decides how its electors are to be chosen. U.S. territories are not represented in the Electoral College.  From The Wall Street Journal: “This Electoral College was built into the U.S. Constitution because the country’s founders were skeptical about having elections determined by direct popular will and also wanted to ensure small states had a voice in national affairs.”  
  • The Electoral College is the institution that officially elects the President and Vice President of the United States every four years.
  • The Electoral College consists of popularly elected representatives (electors) who formally elect the President and Vice President of the United States.
  • The Electoral College is an example of an indirect election.
  • The total number of U.S. electoral votes is 538, which is the sum of the nation’s 435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and 3 electors given to the District of Columbia. (i.e.  Each state gets one elector per member of Congress.)  e.g. Alaska gets three electoral votes, because there are two senators and one representative in Congress from that state. California gets 55 electoral votes, because there are two senators and 53 representatives in Congress from that state.
  • A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the presidency – it’s half of 538, plus one.
  • A candidate who wins the majority of votes in a state gets all its electoral votes. The exceptions to this rule are Nebraska and Maine, where the state winner gets the two electoral votes derived from the two senators, while the candidate who wins each congressional district gets the electoral vote derived from that representative.
  • Technically, the election of the president of the United States takes place during a joint session of Congress on January 6th following Election Day. That’s when members of the House and Senate meet in the House chamber to preside over the counting of electors’ votes. The Twelfth Amendment mandates that the Congress assemble in joint session to count the electoral votes and declare the winners of the election. The session is ordinarily required to take place on January 6 in the calendar year immediately following the meetings of the presidential electors. Since the Twentieth Amendment, the newly elected House declares the winner of the election. In elections before 1936, the outgoing House counted the electoral votes. (from wikipedia)

How many Presidential candidates lost the popular vote but won the election by winning the electoral college vote?

  • John Quincy Adams 1824 (elected by Congress) over Andrew Jackson
  • Rutherford B Hayes 1876 (declared the Electoral College winner by an Electoral Commission) over Samuel J Tilden
  • Benjamin Harrison 1888 over Grover Cleveland
  • George W. Bush 2000 (After disputed Florida electors were awarded to him by Supreme Court Ruling) over Al Gore. The final recount showed that Bush won.
  • Donald J. Trump 2016 over Hillary Clinton

NOTE:  Samuel Tilden actually won more than half of the popular vote. The others only won a plurality [more votes than the other candidate, but not more than half the votes]. (from wikianswers)



swing state, also referred to as a battleground state (or purple state because it is not majority Democratic “Blue State” or Republican “Red State”) is a state in which no single candidate or party has overwhelming support in securing that state’s electoral college votes. Such states are targets of both major political parties in presidential elections, since winning these states is the best opportunity for a party to gain electoral votes. Non-swing states are sometimes called safe states, because one candidate has strong enough support that he or she can safely assume that he or she will win the state’s votes. (from wikipedia)

Questions (The Electoral College):

1.  How many electoral votes does your state have?
2.  Why is your vote meaningful under the electoral college system?

Read a commentary by Walter Williams: The Electoral College Debate


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